The sting of "killer bees" has paralyzed the Texas Senate, and if that sounds bizarre it is only one element in the Byzantine battle to lesiglate a presidential primary in the nation's third-largest state.
There are two kinds of bees in the Texas Senate and a host of bad bee jokes. The "killer bees" are 12 liberal senators who have been absent without leave since 9 a.m. Friday.
Left behing are the "worker bees," who have locked themselves behind the massive oak doors to the Senate chamber, whence they deliver daily denunciations of their absent brethren.
Texas Rangers and highway patromen have been searching for the killer bees for three days without success. They are now referred to as the "bumble bees."
The Senate cannot meet without a quorum of two-thirds of its 31 members, so the remaining conservative senators cannot consider a bill that, in the tangled Texas scheme of things, is not the presidential primary bill at all but an innocuous primary funding bill that the absentees suspect is a Trojan horse maneuver to pass the primary over their opposition.
Orders were given by Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby to arrest and return the truant senators to the Senate floor, but the statewide manhunt has produced only one arrest and he turned out to be the brother of a Houston senator.
"I told him he was making a mistake," said Clayton Jones, who was apprenhended by a highway patrolman and a Texas Ranger in Houston while picking up his Sunday morning paper. Jones, the brother of state Sen. Gene Jones, was shipped to Austin in a Public Safety Department helicopter and returned to Houston after the Senate sergeant-at-arms said he was the wrong man.
Over the weekend, the state Democratic Party chairman and the state Republican Executive Committee rallied to the cause of the "killer bees."
Hobby made veiled threats to remove them from office under his powers as acting governor while Gov. Williams P. Clements Jr. is in Connecticut. And the stay-behind senators retaliated against them by striking "killer bee" bills from their committee calendars.
Hobby and House Speaker Billy Wayne Clayton are backing a split primary that would boost reelection chances for conservative legislative incumbents.
Such a primary-a presidential preference election in March and the regular state and local primary elections in July-is also mightily advantageous to former Texas governor John Connally, a convert to the Republican persuasion who would like to count on support for the presidency from his old-line conservative Democratic backers.
It is anathema to Democratic liberals, who see it as a scheme to allow switch-hitting conservatives to vote Republican with impunity in the presidential contest and return to the Democratic fold in time to stoch the chances of liberal candidates.
Carrying the liberal banner in the Texas Senate are the "killer bees," a minority group fo senators so described by the lieutenant governor because "you never know when they'll strike next."
Using parliamentary maneuvers, wildcat filibusters and tag-team talk sessions, the killer bees have waged tactical warfare all session against the split primary, as well as business-backed anticonsumer legislation.
Friday, with a primary bill on the top of the agenda, they simply didn't show up, preventing the Senate from securing a quorum.
After a futile 30-minute wait, Hobby, who was onto the plot against him, allowed the conservatives in the chamber to put a call on the Senate, the first time in a decade this extraordinary measure has been invoked. Under a call, senators already in the chamber must be excused in writing. As the day wore on, however, most of them had retired to their offices while law officers searched for the absentees.
One innocent, Sen. O.H. (Ike) Harris, a Dallas Republican who was no part of the killer bee plot, overslept Thursday and wandered into the capitol after the call had been ordered. He was immediately taken into custody. CAPTION: Picture, Texas Sen. Bill Moore (D-Bryan) sits amid empty desks waiting for truant colleagues to becorralled.